January Madness: 64 compete in mah jongg tournament
For one afternoon at the Ormond Beach Senior Center, the native language was that of mah jongg, as the Congregation B'nai Torah Sisterhood held its first tournament.
There were winds, dragons, jokers and hot walls in Ormond Beach Monday, Jan. 14. But there was no cause for concern over public safety.
Instead, all of this was taking place at the Congregation B'nai Torah Sisterhood's first mah jongg tournament. There's a unique language to mah jongg, and competitors spat out these words like they were nothing. In any other context, their discussions wouldn’t make sense. But that morning, at the Ormond Beach Senior Center, it was the native tongue.
The tournament, which awarded prizes to the three top players, was not for beginners.
There were 64 players in attendance, which is more than the sisterhood was expecting shortly after they announced the tournament, when low numbers made some think it should be canceled.
But that changed after a little advertising and news of the tournament spread by word-of-mouth.
“The first person called for eight people,” tournament co-chair Eileen Selis said. “The next person called for four people. People weren’t just calling for themselves. It was exciting. It got very, very exciting.”
The tournament grew so much interest, in fact, that Selis was worried there wouldn’t be enough mah jongg sets for everybody. But by the time the tournament started, there was enough for each four-person table, thanks to some players bringing their own.
Mah jongg originated in China, where it’s mostly played by men. The game involves tiles and dice, and players try to put together hands, similar to poker, to score points. Each year, the National Mah Jongg League puts out a new rule card, with the hands to score points for that year.
In the United States, though, Selis said, the game has been picked up mainly by Jewish women. And this tournament hosted that demographic from all over the region.
Myrna Bruzzese, of New Smyrna Beach, started playing when she was 7 years old, while growing up in New York. She heard about the tournament from a friend and made the trek over to play.
“That’s what people did in the county,” Bruzzese said. “It was either cards or mah jongg. My mother played cards and I played mah jongg.”
Lea Moskowitz, of Ormond Beach, started playing 37 years ago, when her children were toddlers.
“You play for yourself,” she said. “And you meet great people. It seems like everywhere you go, you meet someone who plays.”
Moskowitz said when she took a trip to Vietnam, she had a bag that said “mah jongg” on it. Someone stopped her and asked if she played.
“It was cute,” Moskowitz said. That was one connection she never would have made if not for mah jongg.